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Questions abound after Bulls loss in New Jersey

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Questions abound after Bulls loss in New Jersey

Wednesday, Jan. 5, 2011
Posted 8:45 PM Updated 10:45 PM

By Aggrey Sam
CSNChicago.com

NEWARK, N.J.In a game that will be examined for its myriad subplotsfirst and foremost, Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeaus decisions will be scrutinizedit came down to Chicago finally getting burned after playing with fire (as Thibodeau and All-Star point guard Derrick Rose each have quipped following too-close-for-comfort losses to inferior opponents) over the past few weeks. A reserve-led comeback and a typical Rose clutch performance wouldnt be enough to overcome a lackluster effort Wednesday night, as the Bulls (23-11) fell to the Nets (10-25), 96-94, in the two teams second matchup in less than a week.

After a better-than-usual start to the previous nights winalthough Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau wasnt entirely satisfiedChicago was once again lethargic to open a contest. Facing the inferior Nets for the second time in less than a week, the Bulls opponent appeared clearly motivated, not easily intimidated and ultimately effective in the games early going.

Finally deciding to clamp down on defense, New Jerseys easy opportunities ceased for the time being and on the other end, a pair of consecutive circus layups by Rose (21 points)who else?sparked the visitors offense, enabling Chicago to make it a neck-and-neck affair. That being said, the Nets clung to a one-point lead following the first quarter, 25-24.

All the games are tough. They got some guys back, they play hard and they played us well in Chicago, so I knew it was going to be a tough game. We didnt establish ourselves defensively to start the game, so it was going to be a long night for us, said Thibodeau.

Added Rose: Not starting off well really hurts us. Teams get confidence. We cant do this in this league. Anybody can beat you, no matter what their record is.

Luol Deng (17 points, eight rebounds), continuing his recent spate of hot starts to gamesperhaps a byproduct of his growing comfort level with Carlos Boozer (12 points, nine rebounds, five assists)but his efforts were countered by the strong finishing and rebounding of Nets reserve Kris Humphries (20 points, 11 rebounds)typically New Jerseys starting power forward; top draft pick Derrick Favors got his first career start.

The rookie departed after picking up two quick foulswho brought the Prudential Center crowd to its feet with his explosive dunks and blue-collar production. Chicagos bench, however, rallied, quickly erasing the deficit and turning the tables on the home team to snatch the lead out of the young Nets grasp.

With Thibodeaus regulars back in the contest, the Bulls werent quite able to pull away from New Jerseydespite a clear advantage in talentdue to those dreaded defensive lapses. Through two periods of play, the Bulls held a 47-46 lead.

A 4-0 Nets run to start the third quarter immediately raised Thibodeaus ire, resulting in a 20-second Bulls timeout. New Jerseys onslaught didnt stop, however, as Bulls turnovers, easy transition opportunities and displays of athleticism from Humphries and Favors contributed to Chicagos woes.

Continued defensive breakdownsNets point guard Devin Harris (18 points, 11 assists) was seemingly able to penetrate the lane at will to either score or find an open teammate, while center Brook Lopez (14 points) gradually found his groove against wily veteran Kurt Thomasexacerbated the situation, permitting New Jersey to build a slight cushion. Humphries personal exhibition, in particular, was surprising to see, but Chicagos overall defense was subpar, as the likes of Stephen Graham (11 points) and Sasha Vujacic (13 points) did damage.

With poor shot selection, a lack of cohesiveness and general ineptitude all playing roles in the Bulls nightmarish three quarters, New Jersey took a 78-65 lead into the final period.

Deng and an all-reserve unit, started to gradually chip away at New Jerseys winning margin in the fourth quarter by playing with more energy, attention to detail on defense and focus on offense, with Deng, reserve swingman Ronnie Brewer and backup point guard C.J. Watson leading the charge. Thibodeau stuck with his bench for extended minutes for a second consecutive nightalbeit in vastly different circumstances; Deng played with the second unit on the previous evening, toobefore reinserting Rose into the contest with 4:02 to play.

Boozer, the teams major offseason free-agent acquisition was noticeably absent from the fourth-quarter comeback. Thibodeau shared his thought process afterwards.

We struggled all night and at the end, we were in such a big hole, we were searching for anything that could get us going, so we went small to see if the guys could generate something and it worked pretty effectively. When youre doing that, youre sacrificing some defense, too, Thibodeau reasoned. We were in such a big hole and they were playing zone, so we had to keep shooting on the floor. That was the main reason we put Lu at the four, to get more range shooting out there to see if we could spread them out and take advantage of them that way.

They were small on the perimeter. They were playing Jordan Farmar and Harris and Vujacic, and we had a hard time matching up. Thats why we went small, to see if that would helpI thought Humphries played with a lot of energy off the bench. Their rebounding of second shots hurt us badly, he continued. Well, the big thing was they were behind big and they were zoning, so the group that went inwe were playing Luol at the four, which gave us another perimeter playerso it was more effective for us against the zone. Thats why we did it and when that group cut the lead down and we were in positionthey tied the game upwe were just going to finish with the group that was going well.

Obviously offensively, Boozer helps a lot more, but also the matchup with Lopez. Thats what I was concerned with going down to the other end.

A quiet Boozerin sharp contrast to his usual upbeat demeanorspoke with reporters following the games conclusion.

Youve got to talk to Thibs about that. That was a coaching decision, said Boozer, whoas he did when he was injured to start the seasonsupported his teammates wholeheartedly from the sidelines. I want us to win and Im always going to cheer my teammates on, no matter what.

Rose, along with Boozer, one of four Bulls captains, tried to quell any controversy in the aftermath.

Of his own extended stint on the bench, he said, Of course its going to be hard, but they were out there doing good. They got us back into the game. There were a couple possessions where we could have got the lead, but we didnt. But we had a lot of opportunities to win this game.

Regarding Boozer, Rose remarked, Yeah, we were surprised, but were not going to try to coach. Were going to go out there and do our job and thats to play. Were just going to leave all the subbing and everything up to him.

Although the Nets, propelled by Harris ability to get to the rim and New Jerseys rebounding margin, didnt wilt instantly, Roses knack for stepping up in the clutch began to manifest itself down the stretch. A swashbuckling jaunt to the rimplus the foulhere, a 3-pointer there, a fast-break assist and the Bulls were back in it, cutting their deficit to a single point as quickly as the All-Star point guards first step blows past defenders.

After the Bulls an errant Watson 3-pointer, Lopez was fouled and split a pair of foul shots to give New Jersey a two-point lead with under a minute to play. Following a Chicago timeoutthe teams last, called with 49.7 seconds to goDeng was eventually fouled, but missed both of his chances from the charity stripe.

Ive got to make them. They fouled and in a position like that, I expect myself to make those free throws. Ive been struggling with my free-throw shooting this year, said Deng, who denied fatigue was an issue, despite playing over 40 minutes on back-to-back nights. I cant be in that position and miss clutch free throws.

On the subsequent possession, the Nets were unable to capitalize and on the ensuing trip, Watson was fouled on a long-range jumperruled to be a two-point shotwith 11.1 seconds remaining. Watson calmly buried both attempts.

I thought it was a three, but Lu told me it was a two, so I was kind of disappointed, said Watson. I wasnt really looking, but I thought it was a 3-pointer. I didnt really know; I couldnt tell.

Out of a timeout, Lopez couldnt convert a lob pass and Vujacic gathered the carom to hit a miraculous shot in traffic with 5.3 seconds on the clock.

Youve got to come up with the loose ball. C.J. made a good play to get a piece of the ball and weve got to scramble and come up with it, and we didnt. Give them credit. They came up with it, said Thibodeau.

Rose chimed in: It was like a blur, where they threw the oop, C.J. hit ittapped it awayI thought that we were going to get the rebound for sure, but Sasha got it and he made a great layup over Kurt.

Rose pushed the ball down the floor and attempted a contested triple to try to escape Newark with a win, but it fell short.

We allowed them to set instead of getting the ball in quick and obviously, if you can attack before theyre set, you have more room and space. But that was a tough play at the end of that game, Thibodeau explained. We allowed them to shoot 49 percent. They got the big loose ball at the end that won the game for them. Youve got to defend and rebound on the road.

We didnt defend, we didnt rebound well and we were low energy most of the game. In the fourth quarter, we dug down, we got some stops and we played with more energy. That gave us a chance.

Rose elaborated about the final shot: The way that they were playing me, it was going to be hard for me to drive. They were cutting down the elbows, just forcing me to pass and I just took the shot.

They tried to trap meBrook and Devin tried to trap me at the half-court lineI had to get past them and by that time, my mind was rushing. Im like, What to do? What to do? I picked up the ball, I pump-fakedI was going to passthen I just shot it. Next time, I should know what to do, he continued. It hurt, not having the timeout, but if anything, I can get up the court in a couple of seconds. I think I took a bad shot towards the end, but things like this help you for the long run, when you get into situations like this again. I think I could have got all the way to the basket.

Rose went on to say: This is the second game we lost a team thats under .500, but right now, it hurts. But we cant hang our heads down. Weve got to continue to play. Weve got to get off to good starts againweve got to get out and run, get easy baskets. Were not getting any easy baskets. Everything has to be tough, contested and everything. We dont want that. Weve got to make the game easy again.

Im going to shake this off, go out there and try to win the next game.

Aggrey Sam is CSNChicago.com's Bulls Insider. Follow him @CSNBullsInsider on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bulls information and his take on the team, the NBA and much more.

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Should Bulls use Lauri Markkanen as centerpiece of a trade to bring in a superstar?

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Should Bulls use Lauri Markkanen as centerpiece of a trade to bring in a superstar?

On this episode of SportsTalk Live, Hub Arkush (670 The Score/Pro Football Weekly), Danny Parkins (670 The Score) and Lauren Comitor (The Athletic) join David Kaplan on the panel.

Manny Machado Mania continues in Chicago. Do the Cubs even need to trade for him to win the World Series this year?

Ricky Renteria has to bench another player for not hustling. Is this becoming a problem on the South Side?

Plus, Lauri Markkanen is named to the All-Rookie team. Could he be the centerpiece of a trade if the Bulls want to acquire a superstar or move up in the draft? 

Listen to the full episode at this link or in the embedded player below:

NBA 'promises' to potential draft picks not unusual

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USA TODAY

NBA 'promises' to potential draft picks not unusual

Bulls Twitter went on high alert after last week's national report that the front office had made a "promise" to draft Boise State small forward Chandler Hutchison if he was still on the board at No. 22 in the first round. Weren't the Bulls supposed to be interested in SF prospects like Michael Porter Jr., Mikal Bridges and Miles Bridges with their own first round selection? Did a "promise" to Hutchison mean the Bulls would go with Wendell Carter, Trae Young or Collin Sexton at No. 7?

The simple answer is the Bulls haven't made any final decisions on either pick. They still plan to bring the top prospects in for workouts and interviews before June 21 and will continue to take a close look at players likely to be available in the 18-30 range.

And, like any professional sports franchise, the Bulls aren't about to confirm or deny they've made a commitment to Hutchison or any other player. Drafts are fluid, and invariably players will rise and fall throughout the workout/interview process as teams try to get their boards lined up for the big night.

The main reason a team will make a "promise" to a player is to eliminate his incentive to work out for other franchises. In the case of Hutchison, he's obviously received assurances from a team or teams that he will be drafted in the first round. Hutchison cancelled his plans to participate in last week's NBA Draft Combine, and most likely will only work out for teams drafting ahead of the franchise that said they would select him.

Jerry Krause would famously try to hide his interest in players he coveted in a particular year and persuade them not to work out for other teams. The best example came in 1987 when a little known player from Central Arkansas named Scottie Pippen became an obsession for Krause, and the Bulls GM tried everything in his power to keep Pippen under wraps. Problem is, Pippen did attend the scouting combine and quickly became the hot topic among NBA scouts and executives. It took some intense work on Krause's part to arrange for the draft night trade that brought Pippen to Chicago for Olden Polynice. Krause also added Horace Grant later in that same draft, and the foundation was built for the Bulls' first three championship teams.

So, the idea of a team making a "promise" to a player they like is certainly nothing new. What's important to understand is that doesn't guarantee the team will follow through on that promise when they're on the clock. Back in 2013, the Bulls got word to Louisville big man Gorgui Dieng they were interested in taking him with their No. 20 pick in round one. But when the Bulls were on the clock, the front office decided they would rather have New Mexico swingman Tony Snell who was ranked higher on their draft board. The Bulls drafted Snell, much to Dieng and his agent's surprise. Dieng wound up going to Utah with the next pick and was traded to Minnesota. He's still with that franchise today, although in a reduced role after the Timberwolves signed Taj Gibson as a free agent last summer.

With so much uncertainty in this year's draft, it seems unlikely the Bulls would "promise" to select Hutchison five weeks before the selection process was going to begin. Hutchison and his agent most likely received assurances from NBA executives that he would be drafted in the 20-30 range, and that was enough to get him to drop out of the combine. But just like in 2013, if the Bulls see a player ranked higher on their draft board fall to 22, that's the player they're going to take.

Hutchison is a good prospect, a 3-and-D player who would fit well with the team the Bulls are building. But he's also a 22-year-old senior without the upside of some of the younger prospects who might be available with the Bulls' pick late in Round 1. Both Hutchison and the Bulls have to reserve the right to protect their own best interests. Hutchison will most likely agree to work out for teams drafting earlier than 22, and he'll have to understand if the Bulls decide to go a different direction on draft night, no matter what kind of previous discussions his agent may have had with the front office.

At this point in the pre-draft process, a "promise" can only be seen as a team's legitimate interest in a given player and an indicator of how the first round is likely to play out. But a lot can and will change before Phoenix goes on the clock on June 21.

Combine notes

Since most of the projected first round picks do little or nothing at the combine, it's left to the second-round guys to try to improve their draft stock with a strong showing in the scrimmage games. Last year, it was Kyle Kuzma working his way into the first round with a dazzling performance at the combine, and this year, the big winner might be Villanova shooting guard Donte DiVincenzo.

The NCAA Tournament hero impressed everyone with his athleticism on both ends and his ability to knock down open shots. DiVincenzo told me his 31-point performance in the title game against Michigan convinced him he had what it takes to apply for early entry, and his strong showing last week probably convinced him to hire an agent and remain in the draft.

Much like Kuzma, DiVincenzo had been projected as a likely second-round pick before the combine. Now he's looked at as a probable first rounder, going somewhere in the 20-30 range, which means he's likely headed to a good team that can ease his transition to the pro game. Not bad for a guy who came off the bench most of the season for the eventual NCAA champs and probably never imagined he would be leaving early for the NBA until that magical night in San Antonio.

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Other players who improved their draft stock last week include USC combo guard De’Anthony Melton, Maryland swingman Kevin Huerter, Tulane shooting guard Melvin Frazier, Cincinnati swingman Jacob Evans and another Villanova product, point guard Jalen Brunson.

Brunson didn't play in the scrimmages in Chicago, but he showed well in the physical testing, displaying the kind of athleticism every team is looking for at the point guard position. It looks like Brunson will definitely be a first round pick.

Similar story for Evans, who averaged a modest 13 points a game for a top 10 Cincinnati team, but impressed the NBA execs at the combine with his tenacious defensive play and offensive potential. Evans could be a possibility for the Bulls at 22.

Maryland's Huerter showed scouts he's more than just a standstill 3-point shooter. The 6-foot-6 sophomore averaged just under 15 points a game last season, shooting almost 42 percent from 3-point range. Huerter's solid play at the combine gives him a chance to be drafted at the end of Round 1.

Frazier also showed enough in games last week to have his name called among the top 30 picks. At 6-foot-6, he has excellent size at the shooting guard position. Frazier averaged just under 16 points a game during his junior season at Tulane, shooting almost 56 percent from the field.

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But the most interesting story involves Melton, who was held out by USC last season because of his connection to the FBI's investigation of corruption in college basketball. Melton maintained his innocence all along, and said the university was just doing what it had to do, fearing additional trouble with the NCAA over allegations a friend of Melton's had accepted money to try to steer Melton to an agent.

Still, even without playing competitively last season, Melton probably cemented a first round selection with his play at the combine. The 6-foot-4 combo guard flashed on both ends, scoring 15 points in a game last Friday playing alongside DiVincenzo in the backcourt.

Melton told USA Today he compares himself to other two-way standouts like Dwyane Wade, Kawhi Leonard and Avery Bradley. That's some pretty impressive company. Melton might be worth the investment of that No. 22 pick by the Bulls.

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Kudos to all the players who took part in the two days of media interviews last week. Almost all of them came off poised and well prepared. Among the top ten picks, I was especially impressed with Michael Porter Jr., who patiently answered all the questions about his back surgery and confidently said he considered himself the best player in the draft without sounding cocky.

Of course, Jaren Jackson Jr. and Trae Young also proclaimed themselves the best player in the draft, and projected top 10 picks Mo Bamba, Wendell Carter Jr. and Collin Sexton also came across as supremely confident.

The latest Basketball Insiders Mock Draft has the Bulls taking Bamba at 7 and Chandler Hutchison at 22, which would make the front office and a lot of Bulls fans very happy. But just to show you the wide range in how draft experts are evaluating the top prospects, Basketball Insiders currently has Jackson Jr. going 11 to Charlotte, and it's hard for me to imagine him staying on the board past four.

Brace yourself for all kinds of wild speculation over the next four weeks.

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Finally, May 22 turned out to be quite a day for Lauri Markkanen. Not only is Markkanen celebrating his 21st birthday, but he found out he was voted to the NBA's All-Rookie first team after averaging 15.2 points and 7.5 rebounds.

Markkanen joined Ben Simmons, Donovan Mitchell, Jayson Tatum and Kyle Kuzma from the extremely talented 2017-18 rookie class.

And the second team isn't bad either with Dennis Smith Jr., Lonzo Ball, Josh Jackson, John Collins and Bogdan Bogdanovic.

Given Markkanen's talent and work ethic, it's very easy to see him making multiple All-Star Game appearances down the line. The Bulls can only hope they come up with another foundation player like Markkanen when they draft seventh for the second year in a row.